New Zealand’s Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) To Pay $10,000 Compensation To Staff

The Employment Relations Authority has ordered ACC to pay almost $10,000 to a woman who was unfairly dismissed, after she and other staff had been targeted in abusive emails.

Georgia Choveaux was hired by the Wellington office in August 2004 on a casual contract. She was to provide support and administration to Tim Boyd-Wilson in ACC's data warehousing and business intelligence unit.

In February 2006 an offensive email was sent to Mr Boyd-Wilson. It included mentions of Ms Choveaux who was very concerned about its content. It, incorrectly, alluded to an intimate relationship between Mr Boyd-Wilson and Ms Choveaux.

ACC engaged Corporate Risk New Zealand, a forensic consultant, the police and internet service provider Microsoft to investigate the source of the email.

The email came from an outside source, but is believed to have been sent by an ACC employee.

Other abusive emails were later sent accusing Mr Boyd-Wilson of sexual harassment. Not all the emails referred to Ms Choveaux. An email sent in June mentioned Ms Choveaux, and other young women in the office, in relation to sadistic sexual fantasies.

Ms Choveaux was not happy with the extent of ACC's investigation into the sender of the emails and told the human resources department so.

On September 7 she left work and was placed on special leave. Soon afterwards her father became terminally ill and her leave was extended so she could be with him.

After mediation failed Ms Choveaux was asked to contact an ACC human resources staff member. She failed to do so, but did ring Mr Boyd-Wilson to explain the situation with her father.

Wanting to stay out of the situation, Mr Boyd-Wilson failed to pass on this information.

ACC terminated Ms Choveaux's employment on November 9 claiming she abandoned her employment. She became aware of this on November 10, the day before her father died.

Ms Choveaux claimed ACC had failed to provide her with a safe workplace and had subsequently unjustifiably dismissed her. The authority upheld only the latter of these complaints.

It found that in offering a safe work environment ACC was "supportive of Ms Choveaux, offering her counselling, alternative seating options and a different job" after the emails.

"While Ms Choveaux was entitled to her view that it could be seen as unfair that she was the one who had to change when she has done nothing wrong, ACC was taking steps to try and minimise the risk to her."

However, it also found that "ACC knew or ought to have known that Ms Choveaux had genuine reasons for her absence" and that they has ignored these "in order that it could rely on the wording of its abandonment policy."

"That is not sufficient to meet its obligations of good faith."

The authority found reinstatement was not practicable but ordered ACC to pay compensation of $8000 and three weeks lost pay of $1619.


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